Board endorses fundraising to help shore up ailing school district

Parents of students in Vashon’s public schools will be asked to lend a helping hand to the Island’s financially strapped school district.

The Vashon Island school board on Thursday unanimously approved board member Laura Wishik’s proposal to launch a new fundraising effort, which would solicit $150 from parents for each child they have enrolled in the public schools.

The school district is poised to lay off several teachers or staff members because of the state’s far-reaching financial crisis. Wishik hopes that the fundraising effort will raise $150,000 — enough money to retain two or three positions at risk because of the shortfall.

“The thing that makes me want to do this is thinking about the people who otherwise might lose their jobs and who may not have a spouse who’s working. ... These are people, and I feel we owe it to them to do what we can,” she said.

Board members agreed to back Wishik’s plan after a handful of parents stood before them Thursday night and said they’d write a check to try to save teachers’ jobs.

“One hundred and fifty dollars is a lot to my family,” said Chris Greenlee, who has a daughter in third grade. “But I support it completely. Anything we can do is well worth it.”

“It’s my child’s education,” Lesley Reed told the board. “I would write a check.”

Bob Hennessey, who chairs the board, said it was a tough vote for him and some other board members who worry that the fundraising effort will put some parents in a tough spot.

Wishik, however, revised her proposal after first presenting it two weeks ago, he noted. Initially, every parent would have been asked directly by a fellow parent to give to the schools; under her new plan, a letter would be sent to every parent, with follow-up phone calls simply reminding them of the effort.

“I was conflicted. A number of us were conflicted,” he said. “But we’re willing to give this a try as a way to preserve the quality of education in our schools.” The effort comes at the same time as lawmakers are considering another way to give what could prove to be a significant financial boost to Vashon and several other school districts across the state.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed lifting the so-called levy lid, which limits how much school districts can collect from taxpayer-approved levies. The issue is now pending before the Legislature, which is close to completing a spending plan for the state.

Vashon is one of 75 school districts across the state where voters have agreed to spend more money supporting the school district than it could receive because of the lid. Under the state law, schools can receive in voter-approved levies only 25 percent of the amount it collects in state and federal funds. But because districts don’t know the exact amount of those public dollars when they put levies before voters, some districts end up with levy amounts that exceed that 25 percent limit — funds they then can’t collect.

If Vashon’s levy lid were lifted, the district would be able to collect $750,000 or so in additional tax revenue, enough, possibly, to stave off any layoffs, said Superintendent Terry Lindquist.

Hennessey said he’s hopeful the Legislature will agree to Gregoire’s proposal.

“It costs the Legislature very little, either in dollars or politically, and it helps a number of districts in significant ways,” he said.

If the levy lid were lifted, Wishik’s plan may not need to go forward, Hennessey said. Wishik concurred, although she added that it’s not completely clear — even if the levy lid were lifted — that the funds would be there to restore the district to financial health in the upcoming fiscal year.

“There are a bunch of variables,” she said.

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